Nanci Schwartz: Five Things I Learned Writing Robber Barrons


For the last Supersoldier left in the Galaxy, it’s kill or be killed…

Despite the genetic enhancements inherited from her father, Victoria Anetti never wanted to be a supersoldier. She’d rather spend her life fixing starships, free from family expectations.

Then her father and his comrades vanish on a mission to find a lost warship, leaving her the last supersoldier left alive.

Now she must flee from planet to planet in order to evade government agents—like her estranged mother—who want to use her as a pawn in a simmering interstellar conflict.

To escape yet another capture attempt, Victoria reluctantly joins her uncle’s salvage crew who are attempting to complete her father’s mission. But when clues surface that her father might be alive, Victoria must choose whether to disappear again to avoid sparking another war, or embrace her supersoldier legacy to save the only family she has left.

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One of the best things about writing a trilogy is that it gives your characters much more room to grow, and you as the author grow right along with them. I wrote the ROBBER BARRONS trilogy during one of the biggest times of upheaval in my life, and by the end I had changed just as much as my main protagonist, Victoria. Here’s the five most important lessons Victoria and I learned during ROBBER BARRONS.

Planning is important. So is rolling with the changes.

One of the great debates between writers is whether you’re a plotter or a pantser. Do you outline your manuscript, use beat sheets, and plan all your turning points for impeccable pacing? Or do you write with only a vague idea of characters and plot, discovering the story as you go?

I’m a Capricorn, so of course I’m a planner. This came in handy when I was a mentee in Pitch Wars and had to revise at least half of my manuscript. (For the Xth time.) My tendency to outline paid off while writing the second and third books of the trilogy, since I knew the plots worked right away and could focus on my shortcomings: descriptions and feelings. I also planned out a schedule for when I’d write and revise books two and three, putting me on schedule for a Fall 2020 release.

Ahem. I’m sure you’ve already noticed it’s now Fall 2022.

Like I said. Planning is one of my greatest strengths. But I didn’t plan for how much pregnancy and a newborn would fry my brain. Nobody predicted COVID-19, which completely wiped my ability to be creative for at least a year. I had to give myself a lot of grace and accept that these books weren’t coming out when I originally planned.

When I finally started writing again, I felt invigorated. I made playlists for the sequels, because that’s how I motivate myself. I dove into the characters again. If I’d forced myself to push through, I don’t think I would have ever gotten back into the groove.

Similarly, Victoria spent her whole life planning to work on her uncle’s starship, the Robber Barron. She didn’t plan on having a messy breakup with the ship’s systems analyst. She didn’t plan her mother defecting to the enemy. She didn’t plan on becoming the last of the Mahjin. And she certainly didn’t plan on her uncle saving her ass and offering her refuge on his ship. At first, Victoria feels like she has no other option but to say yes. Then she realizes—flying on her uncle’s ship is what she always wanted.

And then everything goes sideways when she realizes her father might still be alive—and her mother might be responsible for his disappearance. Her plans once again fall by the wayside, and she has to adjust her worldview all over again.

The past is the greatest teacher.  

Victoria’s parents mean well. But wow, do they make bad decisions. (Victoria takes after them in this way.) It was important to me that all of Victoria’s parental figures be presented as real people, not just shadowy caricatures who don’t take part in the story by either staying behind or dying. You don’t stop growing as a person when you become a parent, or even when you reach a certain age, so why should fictional characters? I also wanted to show Victoria learning from her elders. As a history major, I know that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Only when Victoria realizes she’s falling into the same traps as her family does she break free of that messy cycle.

Ironically, I wanted to tell a generational story before I became a parent. When I wrote the second and third books, that desire became even stronger. When my son was an infant, I wanted to do everything and make every decision with him in mind. I soon realized I was losing myself in the process, and while my son is the most important person in my life, I was an individual first. Victoria’s parents weren’t done growing once their daughter was born, and neither am I.

Sequels suck, but are also amazing.

Trilogies seem to be the bread and butter of science fiction, and I certainly had ideas for future stories when I wrote the first book. When Aethon Books offered me a deal for a trilogy, I was ecstatic, but also terrified. What if I couldn’t write books on contract? What if my ideas for what happened next were terrible? What if I was never able to write again? (The global pandemic and newborn brain made these thoughts fester even more.)

Writing a sequel was as hard as I envisioned, but it was also amazing to jump into a world with characters I already knew and start writing. I could really focus on the plot, expanding other areas of the galaxy I only mentioned previously, and introduce new characters. I definitely understand the appeal of writing a series and hope to someday return to this universe with new books.

Victoria has what appears to be a definitive ending in book one. But those events aren’t as resolved as she thought she was. When confronted with someone from her recent past, she is forced to go on yet another mission with the crew of the Robber Barron. And those events propel her to confront her destiny as a Mahjin once and for all.


She ends the trilogy in an unexpected, but good, place. One with (hopefully) lots more adventures ahead of her.

If it’s not enjoyable, try something new.

Writing is hard, but it should be fun. That seems self-explanatory, but even with self-imposed deadlines, it can be draining to force yourself to sit in front of a keyboard every night after working a full-time job and putting your very energetic toddler to bed. I had to learn to enjoy the entire writing process—yes, even the dreaded drafting. For me, that meant crafting playlists and listening to them on repeat while writing, imagining scenes in my head based on my favorite music cues, and incorporating my favorite tropes and scenarios. (Book Three has forced proximity, a fancy gala, and there’s only one bed. I’m not sorry about it.) All of this turned drafting, which was previously a slog for me, into something I actually looked forward to.

When the story begins, Victoria is set in her ways. She intends to stay on the run for as long as possible. But when she’s almost captured in the first scene, she realizes something must change. As the novel progresses, she takes drastic action to reach out to her mother and stop their never-ending conflict. Even when faced with only seemingly bad choices, Victoria can still take charge of her own destiny. And, eventually, things start to get better for her, and everyone around her.

Find your people and stick with them.

There’s a reason why so many writers recommend finding a group of peers to rely on throughout your career. Writing is such a solitary action—but it doesn’t have to be. During Pitch Wars, I became good friends with a group of fellow mentees, and we continue to talk via Slack to this day. We even have a channel devoted to drafting and writing sprints. I wrote most of Book Three while providing updates in that channel, and it was an amazing motivator. We all write different genres and are at different stages of our careers, but they remain some of my biggest cheerleaders, and I can only hope I return the favor for them. I can’t imagine publishing this trilogy without them in my corner.

ROBBER BARRONS is a story about family. Victoria’s uncle is not related to her by blood, but she’s just as close to him as her father—if not closer. Her aunt isn’t married to her uncle, but Victoria has always called her aunt. She’s always felt at home the Robber Barron, much more than with her fellow supersoldiers. She loves her father, but the life he wants for her isn’t the life she wants. And she certainly doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be an intelligence agent. But branching out from family traditions doesn’t mean you have to stop being a part of one. You can be part of more than one family—found and blood. Without both, Victoria wouldn’t be who she is.

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Nanci Schwartz is an instructional writer by day, a science fiction author by night, and a mom 24/7. Her debut novel ROBBER BARRONS (September 13, 2022) is the first installment of a forthcoming trilogy from Aethon Books. In her small amounts of free time, she can be found gallivanting around Disney World, flailing about her favorite space opera movie franchise, or taking refuge from the heat in her pool. She lives near the Most Magical Place on Earth with her husband, son, dog, and cat.

Nanci Schwartz: Twitter

Robber Barons: Amazon


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